Originally written on Full Spectrum Baseball  |  Last updated 4/26/12

While the trade market doesn’t traditionally become active before early summer, it’s never too early to begin an examination of some of the potential options that may be available either now or in the coming months. Regardless of what date the calendar reads, pitching is always put at a premium on the trade market anytime a quality option is made available. The key word there is quality, however, and defining that fairly is often a situation that isn’t always quite so cut and dry.

Which brings us to Minnesota Twins’ left-hander Francisco Liriano.

To see Liriano mentioned as a potential trade candidate would have seemed unfathomable a few years ago. As Spring Training got started prior to the 2008 season, the Twins felt confident enough in Liriano’s ability to lead their pitching staff, despite the fact that he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery, that they shipped the ace of their staff, Johan Santana, to the New York Mets. From 2008-2011 Liriano appeared in 100 games for the Twins (93 starts) and pitched a total of 538.2 innings. He posted a 34-37 record over that span with a 4.58 ERA, 8.4 K/9, and 3.8 BB/9. His best season came in 2010 when he finished 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA in 31 starts (191.2 IP). He posted a 9.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, and a league-leading 0.4 HR/9 while coming in 11th in Cy Young voting at season’s end.

To date he’s been a different pitcher, posting a 0-3 record and 11.02 ERA through his first four starts (16.1 IP) of the 2012 season. Command has been a big problem thus far, as he’s walked more batters (13, 7.2 BB/9) than he’s struck out (12, 6.6 K/9) while allowing a career high 13.8 H/9. The Twins sit at the bottom of the AL Central as their problems go beyond the disappointing start from Liriano. Should they continue, there are a handful of pieces the team could look to deal prior to the July trade deadline.

None of the four players the Twins received for Santana have provided significant value to the organization, which could make some leary of what a potential return could be for Liriano but ultimately shouldn’t affect any potential negotiations. Carlos Gomez batted .248/.293/.352 over two seasons before being traded to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy. Kevin Mulvey would only make two appearances (1.1 IP during the 2009 season) for the Twins before being dealt to Arizona to complete an earlier trade for Jon Rauch. Deolis Guerra has yet to reach the Major Leagues and is actually repeating Double-A for the 4th time this season, having finally been moved to the bullpen after proving ineffective as a starter. The final piece acquired by the Twins was, of course, Philip Humber, who just threw the 21st perfect game in MLB history earlier this month. He’s with his third organization since leaving the Twins as a free agent after the 2009 season.

Liriano’s youth should work to his advantage, as he won’t turn 29 until late October, but it may actually be unfair to compare this situation to the Santana deal. Santana was just coming off his 4th straight 200+ innings season and was still considered among the game’s top starters. Liriano, however, has fallen far from the expectations placed on his shoulders years ago and is not even the top starter on his team, let alone in the the American League. But, he still possesses some value. He’ll also be a free agent at season’s end. With some of the recent changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the chances of the Twins receiving an additional draft pick if he signs elsewhere in free agency are much slimmer.

If the Twins can’t seem to turn things around they could look to trade some of their veteran options and those nearing free agency. Liriano could become a prime candidate at that point, though the level of interest other teams place on him may largely be influenced by how he pitches moving forward. Considering he’s only under team control through the remainder of this season his value could be limited to an acquiring team, but team’s often are willing to overlook such a detail if there is enough belief that a player could help them reach the postseason.

Liriano could prove to be an option for a contender in need of some rotation depth a month or two from now. There’s no chance he brings back a package similar to that which the Twins received for Santana in 2008, but it wouldn’t be out of the question for the Twins to seek a mid-level prospect when/if they look to move him this summer.

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